Cuomo, De Blasio pitch plan to transform MTA; L.I. Senate Dems question proposal

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Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio pitched a new plan for funding and reorganizing the MTA Tuesday, calling for congestion pricing to help bail out the troubled subway system by tolling drivers who enter Manhattan’s busiest corridors.

The MTA, which runs the subways, the Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North, the bridges and the tunnels, is facing huge losses because of deteriorating subway service and the dire need to reverse years of delayed maintenance throughout its aging transit system. Manhattan’s Midtown streets have become choked with drivers from Long Island and other points outside the city who are reluctant to count on unreliable MTA service.

Under the 10-point plan, fares collected through new tolls would go toward a lockbox to create “a funding source necessary to ensure the capital needs of the MTA can be met.”

Officials have long expressed concern about crippling congestion in New York City as well as budget deficits and the subway crisis.

The charge per car is not yet set, but a task force commissioned by Cuomo recommended $11.52 per car entering Manhattan south of 60th Street. Cuomo also said that without alternative revenue streams, subway and bus fares could be forced to increase 30 percent to support the necessary repairs for a dilapidated and neglected transit system.

While congestion pricing would increase the cost of travel for some Nassau County commuters, Cuomo has also said the plan could generate $15 billion annually and help commuters in the long run.

The congestion pricing revenue would be supplemented by part of a new Internet sales tax and cannabis excise tax.

The MTA currently has about $40.7 billion in outstanding debt, according to the agency’s debt portfolio posted online.

The plan also calls for centralizing common functions among the Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North, New York Transit Authority, and other entities by June. Among those functions are construction management, procurement, engineering, legal matters and human resources.

The Long Island Senate Majority delegation, which includes state Senators Anna Kaplan, John Brooks, Jim Gaughran, Todd Kaminsky, Monica Martinez, and Kevin Thomas said they are “generally supportive of the concept” of decreasing reliance on car trips to the city while protecting the environment and easing congestion, but said they see “troubling concerns.”

They said those concerns include a lack of three things: a dedicated revenue stream for LIRR infrastructure, a tolling exemption for the RFK Bridge and representation on the proposed capital project review committee from other transit agencies, including the LIRR.

“As the representatives for millions of Long Island commuters, it is our responsibility to ensure that any congestion pricing plan is not funding on their backs without substantial benefit,” the senators said in a joint statement.

The joint statement goes on to say, “We cannot support the proposal in its current state and are happy to meet with any party to address these concerns.”

TransitCenter, a transportation advocacy and research group, endorsed the congestion pricing portion of the plan but said there is “no need to rush through a major reorganization of the MTA concurrently with the budget.”

“Enacting congestion pricing would be a huge step forward for New York City’s transportation system – reducing traffic, funding transit and speeding up buses,” the group said in a statement.

“While the MTA urgently needs to contain costs as well, such reforms can be delivered through the agency’s existing structure,” TransitCenter added.

At the same time, the plan says the MTA will face an independent audit to be completed no later than January 2020 and a review of its capital plan by a committee of independent experts.

Paired with this is a call for the MTA to “immediately expedite the completion of the Subway Action Plan,” a $836 million initiative designed to “stabilize and improve the subway system.”

It also describes the necessity of a partnership between the city and state to counter fare evasion. The plan says the state plans to work with the MTA, city, and district attorneys to create an enforcement strategy that works to “not criminalize fare evasion but instead prevent fare evasion.”

Fernando Ferrer, the acting chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said he “strongly” endorses the joint proposal to address “the fundamental challenges the MTA faces.”

“This proposal is a holistic cure for much of what ails the MTA, and I hope to see it enacted swiftly for the benefit of our 8.5 million daily customers,” Ferrer said, adding that it “builds on work we are already doing to improve service through aggressive action.”

New York Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox, however, blasted the plan and said it should not have been necessary in the first place.

“Cuomo’s congestion pricing scheme is just another tax on overburdened New Yorkers who are already being nickeled and dimed to death,” Cox said. “Gov. Cuomo has wasted billions on his corrupt publicity projects while ignoring the growing MTA crisis and now is trying to cover up that mismanagement by taxing New Yorkers and rushing through legalized marijuana for the sake of its revenues, despite mounting evidence of health and public safety concerns.”

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